Sire De Grugy on comeback trail in Game Spirit Chase

Bill Esdaile
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Sire De Grugy is looking for his sixth win in a row but must defy a long layoff

SIRE DE Grugy is set to make his eagerly-awaited reappearance in tomorrow’s Game Spirit Chase at Newbury (3.00pm) with a defence of his Betway Champion Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival in March the ultimate goal.

Gary Moore has written exclusively for Betway over the last month, documenting the nine-year-old’s recovery and training regime, and he said in a blog post on Tuesday that his stable star is “fit enough to do himself justice”.

And he’ll need to be somewhere near top form if he’s to win his first race in 289 days, having been off the track with an injury. Not even the previously unbeatable Sprinter Sacre could defy a lack of race fitness when finishing second at Ascot last month and Moore has cautioned that Sire De Grugy will “come on for the run and there’s still a little bit left to work on”.

The gelding is 8/11 with Betway to win the Grade Two and victory will see their best-price of 9/2 on the horse retaining the Champion Chase contract significantly.

There are currently five entered alongside him but Vibrato Valtat is sure to go to Warwick instead and it’s not a certainty that Uxizandre will line up with owner JP McManus also having the enigmatic Mr Mole entered.

The final declarations aren’t out until later this morning but Mr Mole is an intended runner and the Paul Nicholls-trained son of Great Pretender is the danger to Sire De Grugy.

The horse has had a reputation for being an awkward customer but has been rejuvenated this season by front-running tactics. He’s beaten the same horse, Brick Red, on his last two starts and that form was franked on the weekend when Venetia Williams’ charge won a decent chase at Sandown.

This is still a big step up for Mr Mole, who is rated 17lb below Sire De Grugy and only receives 4lb, but he’s best placed to expose any weaknesses in the favourite.

However, 3/1 is skinny enough and even though Sire De Grugy is unlikely to be at his very best, I’d be disappointed if the four-time Grade One winner couldn’t justify favouritism.

Although Nicholls might not be celebrating a win in the Game Spirit, I think the eight-time champion trainer will be back in the winner’s enclosure after the Betfair Hurdle (3.35pm).

CALIPTO was sent off favourite for last season’s Triumph Hurdle and he surely would have gone very close if Daryl Jacob’s stirrup leather hadn’t snapped in the closing stages.

He was then slightly disappointing at Aintree, but the tighter track there probably didn’t suit him, and he was given a wind operation after finishing second to Tiger Roll at Cheltenham on his seasonal reappearance in October.

I’m sure Nicholls thinks a mark of 143 is more than workable and the stable won this race three years ago with Zarkandar off 151. Calipto is also two from two at Newbury and the 5/1 with Betway should be taken.

Without a doubt the biggest danger to him is Activial, trained by Nicholls’ former assistant Harry Fry. This five-year-old was beaten by Calipto over course and distance in November 2013, but he has improved since then.

Laid out for the Ladbroke Hurdle before Christmas, a stumble at the second last put paid to Activial’s winning chances, but he ran a fine race to finish third.

In time he will probably need a bigger stamina test, but it’s a long way home up the Newbury straight and the softer the ground the better his chances.

I think these two will finish in the places, but I’m swayed by Calipto as Nicholls has shown time and time again that he can come up with the goods with these unexposed hurdlers.

Another race the Ditcheat stable would dearly love to win is the Betfair Denman Chase (2.25pm) and they might just be able to do it with the revitalised UNIONISTE.

The yard have taken this prize five times in the past eight years and John Hales’ grey bounced back to his best at Sandown last time. The 4/1 with Betway looks fair.

Final declarations are also out this morning and the one I’d be most afraid of is Houblon Des Obeaux, who ran a cracker in the Hennessy.

Finally, don’t miss Nicky Henderson’s CALL THE COPS in the 3m handicap hurdle (1.50pm). He ran well behind Brother Brian at Kempton in November and this step up in trip should suit perfectly. He could be an interesting one for the Cheltenham handicap hurdles.

■ Pointers…
CALL THE COPS 1.50pm Newbury (tomorrow)
UNIONISTE 2.25pm Newbury (tomorrow)
CALIPTO 3.35pm Newbury (tomorrow)